Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Special Reports

The Folly of Double Government: Lessons from the First Anglo-Afghan War for the 21st century

Noah Arjomand < 1 min

The latest AAN report, a discussion paper named “The Folly of Double Government: Lessons from the First Anglo-Afghan War for the 21st Century” by guest author, Noah Arjomand, revisits Britain’s attempt at state-building in Afghanistan from 1839-1841. The disastrous British retreat from Kabul in January 1842 and the subsequent British pillage of the Afghan capital are well-known events that have made it not only into Afghanistan’s national mythos, but are also remembered in Britain as one of its worst military defeats. But what in the previous three years of British occupation had brought political tensions within the country to the point of open warfare? After all, British had installed their chosen monarch, Shah Shuja al-Mulk Saddozai, in Kabul with relative ease and, indeed, with the support of many in the local elite who would later fight against them.

Shah Shuja holding a durbar (court) at Kabul, Afghanistan.Shah Shuja holding a durbar (court) at Kabul, Afghanistan.

This paper argues that the failure of governing that led to the revolt against British occupation was rooted in the very structure of the hybrid state they created.

AAN discussion paper 2/2015 can be downloaded here.

(Note: AAN’s short discussion papers have no executive summary.)


Noah Arjomand is a PhD student in sociology at Columbia University in the City of New York. He holds a degree in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. His previous publication for AAN, “Eagle’s Summit Revisited: Decision-Making in the Kajaki Dam Refurbishment Project,” can be downloaded here.


Anglo-Afghan War Britan British Empire History international engagement International Intervention